Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Squatting Your Own House

ITV news last night reported the first UK case of a phenomenon that is taking hold in the USA; squatting your own house. Or perhaps more accurately squatting your ex-house.

The couple from Kent are one of almost 30,000 households who have had their house repossessed this year. This is a dramatic rise from last year when 12,000 were repossessed all year. What the Kent couple found was that once their house was in the hand of their bank nothing more happened. Their ex-house joined the ranks of Britain’s 939,000 empty homes. After a few weeks of looking at it sitting there doing nothing, they thought “what the hell” and broke back in and took up residence. They’ve even put the Christmas decorations up. The bank doesn’t seem to have noticed. Or at least hadn’t until it was broadcast to the nation last night.

The lenders have discovered that repossessing people’s homes is only the start of their problems. Apart from the obvious human misery for the households, and public relations disaster for them, they have found that in a falling housing market they can’t find anybody to buy the repossessed houses. In fact of those 30,000 repossessed homes, the lenders have admitted that at least 6,000 are unsaleable. Given the speed of the current housing market you can be pretty sure that the vast majority of those 30,000 are still empty.

In this context the newly nationalised RBS announcement yesterday that repossessions would not start for six months after households fell into arrears, looks less like altruism and more like cold reality. Bankrupt banks turfing bankrupt households out of their homes into the street in order to leave them empty doesn’t feel like a policy that helps anybody.